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House Oversight Committee votes to authorize subpoenas in security clearance probe

The House Oversight Committee voted Tuesday to authorize a subpoena to the former personnel security director at the Trump White House.

The committee voted to authorize subpoenas related to two issues — White House security clearances and the US Census — on Tuesday afternoon, escalating Democrats’ fight against administrative stonewalling. The security clearance vote passed along party lines, while one Republican, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, voted with Democrats on the Census question.

Democrats voted to green light a subpoena to interview Carl Kline, the former White House official who had broad authority over the security clearance process at the White House, and whom Tricia Newbold, a current White House official, told the committee played a key role in reversing security clearance decisions for more than two dozen White House staffers.

The Oversight Committee also voted to authorize three subpoenas related to their investigation into how a question about citizenship ended up on the Census.

“If you let people go past the red line, it just doesn’t work,” House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings said Tuesday. “I don’t want to issue subpoenas. I know how serious it is … but if we ask over and over again … we have no choice.”

The subpoena on security clearances comes after Newbold told the committee at the end of March that she had kept a list of 25 instances in which decisions not to grant security clearances were reversed by those above her.

“She raised her concerns inside the White House … and they targeted her for retaliation,” Cummings said. “Yet, despite these risks, she has agreed to identify herself publicly.”

Republicans accused Democrats of just trying to embarrass the White House. Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the committee, slammed Cummings for voting to subpoena Kline after he agreed to voluntarily testify, and said Cummings had “cherry picked” information and issued a press release “after interviewing one witness.”

“Now we’re going to subpoena the guy,” Jordan said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

“Oh please,” Cummings shot back.

Instead of issuing the subpoenas, Rep. Mark Green, a Tennessee Republican, proposed referring Michael Cohen, the President’s former lawyer and fixer, for a perjury investigation at the Department of Justice.

But Cummings lashed out at Republican claims that he was only trying to embarrass the President. “What we are trying to do is protect our secrets,” he said.

Cummings said Newbold came forward at “great personal risk.”

“This lady was scared,” he said. “She was scared to death and she was scared sadly of our Republican colleagues” in explaining why Democrats didn’t tell Republicans about the interview until the afternoon before it occurred, which was on a Saturday.

In a letter sent to the committee Monday after Cummings released Newbold’s interview, Kline’s lawyer said Monday that he would be willing to voluntarily appear before the committee. But Tuesday, Cummings said it was too little too late.

The committee also authorized three subpoenas related to the census, including a subpoena to Justice Department official John Gore. Democrats said that Gore refused to answer more than 100 questions related to the Census citing issues of “separate litigation” when he’d sat for a voluntary interview.

The second and third subpoenas were for documents from the Justice Department and from the Department of Commerce. Cummings said that the administration has sent over thousands of documents, but many were already public or were heavily redacted.

“We don’t want thousands of pieces of paper, we want specific … documents we’ve asked for,” Cummings said.

Republicans accused Democrats of trying to influence the upcoming Supreme Court case on the citizenship question with their investigation on the census. Earlier Tuesday morning, they issued a report detailing their argument that Democrats were trying to influence the courts.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross sent a letter to Cummings Monday arguing a subpoena was premature because the department has turned over thousands of documents and he had already testified before the panel on the census issue.

“As of today, we have turned over 11,500 pages of documents to the Committee, and I voluntarily testified in front of the same Committee for nearly seven hours on this issue two weeks ago,” Ross wrote. “Your letter has provided less than one business day to comply with an ultimatum: the Department must waive its good faith and legally grounded assertions of confidentiality and privilege or the Committee will issue a subpoena. However, accommodation is not capitulation. The Department believes that the rush to issue a subpoena is premature.”

The House Oversight Committee investigation into security clearance issues at the White House has escalated in recent weeks amid reports that Trump pressured White House staffers to approve the security clearances of his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed to previous reporting of White House officials using WhatsApp messages — Cummings has alleged Kushner used the app to “communicate with foreign leaders — as reason for why Congress has to get to the bottom of the White House security clearance issues.

“Really, what is next, putting nuclear codes in Instagram DMs?” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Ocasio-Cortez, leaving the hearing, told CNN that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump should have their security clearances revoked depending on how their clearances were initially granted and were done through the “proper channels.”

“This is completely insecure, and the issue with that as we saw in the lead up to say many attacks and so many issues when we have so many channels of communication anything can get hacked, and if we don’t know what hostile forces know about us, then we are putting thousands of lives at risk,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

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